Watermelon Radish

>>  Friday, October 29, 2010

watermelon radish
I got a curious looking vegetable in my CSA boxshare today.

No, it's not a watermelon, though it looked so much like one I couldn't resist throwing some sesame seeds on it.

Hello watermelon radish!
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The watermelon radish is a winter radish that grows particularly well when the weather gets cooler. It's got a ton of alternate names, such as Beauty Heart, Rose Heart, Shinrimei, Misato, Asian Red Meat, or Xin Li Mei radish. It's an heirloom variety of the Chinese daikon.

From the outside it looks just like an ordinary turnip or radish. I thought nothing of it, until I cut it open.

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Maple Butternut Squash Soup

>>  Wednesday, October 27, 2010

This soup is part of a larger meal "A Taste of Autumn" where every single dish was made using "edible" or natural "bowls." That post is my entry for Project Food Blog Round 6. You can check out the post and vote for me here.
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Can you believe it was 70° F in Boston yesterday? I feel almost funny posting about a warm, autumn soup. Perhaps it's time to go back and have a duck confit salad or gnocchi with summer tomatoes.

Dream on. This warm weather is only temporary, and by the time the weekend rolls around, we will be back to having our cool and dry fall weather again.

Slightly nippy fall weather is perfect for autumn squash soups. In general, I love blended fall soups. They are easy to make, present beautifully, super healthy, and  soooo satisfying on a chilly fall evening. For all these soups, the basic technique is the same, yet the variations and possibilities are endless, giving you the freedom to be as creative as you want.

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Inside Out Apple Pies

>>  Tuesday, October 26, 2010

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This dessert is part of a larger meal "A Taste of Autumn" where every single dish was made using "edible" or natural "bowls." That post is my entry for Project Food Blog Round 6. You can check out the post and vote for me here.

I'm not a baker.

Bakers are precise, careful, planned, and detail-oriented people. They have to be this way, for baking is such a precise art. Change the ratios of something, and the whole thing could totally fail.

I'm more of a throw-it-all-together-without-measuring type cook, which can often lead to failures if you're trying to get cake to be a certain texture, a crust to be flaky, or dough to rise properly.

This was my first time ever making any pie from scratch. As a non-exact imprecise sort of cook, you would naturally assume the odds would be stacked against me. Thankfully, the pie turned out great, mostly due to some interesting techniques and also flexibility in the recipe (and maybe beginner's luck!).

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Voting for Project Food Blog Round 6 is open!

>>  Monday, October 25, 2010

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Voting is open for Round 6!

Thanks so much for your all your support up to this point in the competition. I am honored and humbled by all of your kind, generous, and constructive comments. I know it's not trivial to sign up for another account just to vote, so thanks again for your willingness to do so.

This round we had to take a road trip and prepare a meal that would "travel well and still look great." The entire meal had to fit inside this insulated cooler bag that they sent us.
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As you can see, fall foliage in New England is gorgeous this time of year. Bryan and I had a mini getaway picnic at Walden Pond where we enjoyed an autumn-themed meal, complete with a full array of nature's own "bowls"!
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Come check out my entry and vote here.
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Fall Foliage: A Taste of Autumn

>>  Sunday, October 24, 2010

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The last time I took a dedicated road trip with just one other person to look at fall foliage, I ended up getting engaged to him.

Yes I know, it's been that long.

It's not like I haven't seen foliage every autumn. The leaves in Boston alone are absolutely stunning. Cambridge, especially around Harvard University, is aglow in fiery hues this time of year.

Nevertheless, whatever the reason, Bryan and I have not taken a dedicated leaf-peeping road trip together ever since our engagement.

That is, until this past Saturday.

For Round 6 of Project Food Blog, I had to design a meal and take it "on the road." The goal? To prepare a meal that carries well and tastes great. We decided that Walden Pond would be the perfect place to enjoy a picnic while taking in Boston's amazing fall foliage.
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Walden Pond was made famous by Henry David Thoreau, who lived there for two years between 1845 and 1847. Tired of the busy world, he sought out refuge in this quiet and tranquil place.

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."     - Henry David Thoreau
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Thoreau's stay at the pond inspired the book Walden, which some say brought awareness and respect for the natural environment.
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In the spirit of Thoreau's ideas regarding our respect for nature, I decided to create an autumn-themed meal where all the dishes would be served in natural "bowls." Minimal trash would be created from this picnic. Instead, all the "bowls" would either be eaten or composted.
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Each course would be inspired by autumn, yet would be modified appropriately so that it would travel well and still taste delicious after reaching the final destination.

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After shopping and cooking for several hours on Friday evening and partially on Saturday, I finally had everything ready to pack up for our special picnic. Foodbuzz had sent us an insulated cooler a few days earlier. One of the rules of this challenge? Your entire meal has to fit inside the bag.

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Phew! Everything fit!
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We hopped in the car (with all our cameras in tow) and drove to Walden Pond.
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After wandering down the trail for a bit ( bags were getting heavy!) we finally settled upon this fantastic location right next to the lake.
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The fall foliage was absolutely beautiful, with red, orange, and golden hues everywhere.
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I unpacked and set up the meal.
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Of course, can't forget the pictures!

First Course: Maple Butternut Squash Soup
Maple Butternut Squash Soup
This velvety-smooth soup is pretty easy to make. Simply saute onions in olive oil or butter, add cut up butternut squash and broth, and then cook until the squash is soft. Blend the soup (most easily done with a hand blender), and that's it! Add maple syrup and salt to taste.

The key to packing this is to have a very good vacuum bottle (such as Thermos).  The bottle will keep soup very hot for hours (!) which is so satisfying to drink on a chilly fall afternoon. Once you arrive at the location and right before eating, pour out the soup into hollowed out butternut squash "shells." Serve!
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Main Course: Pumpkin Shepherd's Pie
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This dish is a twist on the traditional Shepherd's pie because it replaces mashed potatoes with a trio of mashed pumpkin, sweet potato, and red potatoes. The mashed mixture is layered with ground beef sauteed with carrots and onions. You should ideally pack the filling (potatoes + beef) separately in insulated containers and then plate it right before serving so that the dish stays warm.

Side dish: Stuffed Peppers
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As a twist on the traditional stuffed pepper, I made a healthy version that would taste good either warm or cold. Mix together chopped bell peppers, onions, and wild rice. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, feta cheese, olives, and (optionally) chopped up cured meat, such as ham. Fill each pepper up with the mixture and serve. Since this side can be eaten cold, you can pack this side dish beforehand and serve as is. I rubberbanded my peppers shut to ensure none of the filling came out!
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Drink: Mulled Cider
I made mulled apple cider at home by cooking apple cider with cinnamon chips, allspice, sweet orange peel, anise, clove, and nutmeg. After filtering the liquid, I packed it in another insulated vacuum bottle, which kept the cider nice and hot. I cored out apples which served as cups and poured the cider into the apples right before drinking.
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Dessert: Inside Out Apple Pie
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Keeping with the theme of having fruits and gourds as my "containers," I made mini-apple pies which fit perfectly within a hollowed-out granny smith apple.
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Homemade pastry dough is surprisingly easy to make (yes, this was my first time). I found this great recipe which involves using a food processor and frozen cubes of butter. I used a muffin tin to bake mini apple pies and then placed these pies into my hollowed out apples. I packed the pies and the hollowed out apples separately, combining then right before serving.
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Food, Nature, and Simplicity
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We enjoyed a fantastic, relaxing picnic - just the two of us - while staring out at Walden Pond, savoring the simplicity of nature.
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Although it was slightly chilly, we were blessed with sunshine and a beautiful backdrop.
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After lunch, we hiked around the lake and enjoyed our own Thoreau moments.
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And finally, a toast to a successful meal and a wonderful afternoon.
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Cheers!

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I can't believe I'm still in this competition! Thank you so much for those of you who voted for me the last several rounds. This blog entry is my submission for The Next Food Blog Star’s sixth challenge: Road Trip! If you are so inclined, please vote for this entry (voting begins Monday, October 25). Thanks so much for your support!

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Made in China [Grand Hyatt Hotel]

>>  Friday, October 22, 2010

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This is part 3 of the China Series detailing my recent trip to Beijing, Xian, and Shanghai. Other posts in this series include part 1: Wander the Streets of Beijing, part 2: Xian'r Lao Man and some other preview posts: China: Lost in Translation, and Happy Birthday Bryan: an Ode to Noodles and Ducks.

Welcome to one of the most beautiful dining rooms I visited while in Beijing.

Even before we left for China, we had already heard about "Made In China," the elegant Chinese restaurant inside the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Beijing. People raved about the Peking duck, conceding that while the prices were high, the quality of the duck was definitely worth it.

After first having a minor taxi snafu where we ended up at the wrong Hyatt and had to pay our driver more than twice [grrrr - he reset the meter], we finally arrived at the beautiful Grand Hyatt Hotel (backpack, sneakers, and all) to get a taste of what the imperial palace would have enjoyed over a century ago.

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Xian'r Lao Man (馅老满) [Beijing Dumplings]

>>  Wednesday, October 20, 2010

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This is part 2 of the China Series detailing my recent trip to Beijing, Xian, and Shanghai. Other posts in this series include part 1: Wander the Streets of Beijing and some other preview posts: China: Lost in Translation, and Happy Birthday Bryan: an Ode to Noodles and Ducks.

Even though Peking duck might be the first thing you think of when considering Beijing food, you can't ignore the humble little dumpling. In fact, in many ways, the dumpling is more of a traditional common man's food than the Peking duck, which was really imperial food until just the last century or so. Because rice was only for the wealthy, most Beijingers subsisted on wheat-based foods, like mantoushaobing, and our humble little dumpling (jiaozi).

Nowaways, Beijing has plenty of rice to go around, though dumplings are still extremely popular and very prevalent all over the city. We scoured reviews and narrowed ourselves down to two dumplings places we knew we had to try when we came to Beijing.

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Wandering the Streets of Beijing

>>  Tuesday, October 19, 2010

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Hutong (alley) in Beijing

I really had no idea what to expect when I stepped off that plane to China.

I mean, sure, I had seen pictures of Beijing while watching the Olympics back in 2008. And I'd seen countless pictures in calendars - of farmers in their rice paddies, bicycles swarming the streets of Beijing, and temples soaring into the sky.

But I'd never set foot in China.

Just like a thousand words can hardly describe a picture, scores of television footage and photos can't even touch the experience of actually stepping foot in a country and immersing oneself in its food, people, and culture.

My favorite way to enjoy a city?

Walk it.

And that's exactly what we did in Beijing that first day. We walked and walked and walked the streets of Beijing, taking in as many sights, smells, and tastes (of course!) that we possible could.

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Voting is Open for Project Food Blog Round 5!

>>  Monday, October 18, 2010

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Hi everyone,

I cannot thank you enough for your support through these last five rounds of this competition! Seriously, it's exhausting, but so much fun at the same time! I am totally stretching myself as a cook, writer, and photographer throughout this entire experience. I really do believe I will come out of this a better blogger in the end no matter what happens. :)

Anyway, just wanted to announce that voting for Project Food Blog Round 5 is now open! You can check out my entry and vote here.

For this round we had to make pizza. Come see my artistic interpretation of pizza (as flags!), as well as stories from the various trips I've taken to these countries in the past decade or so.
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My vain attempts that throwing pizza dough

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A Pizza Tour of My Travels

>>  Sunday, October 17, 2010

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My family has always loved traveling. Even though my parents were incredible frugal with everything else, we somehow always could afford plane tickets to fly to various parts of the world. Heck, my paternal grandfather founded what became the largest travel agency in Taiwan. When you have something like that in your lineage, you know you're destined to travel.

To this day, the travel bug has never left me, and I'm always wondering what trip to take next.

The next round in Project Food Blog is to create our own interpretation of pizza. I decided to take this opportunity to reflect upon the last decade or so of travel and express those trips by creating the flags of the countries I have visited as pizzas.

Now mind you, I do mostly Asian cooking (although Bryan does have an affinity for fresh pasta, so I do make lots of various pasta dishes). Nevertheless, I have never ever made pizza before.
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Pizza dough is easy enough to make, ha ha, if you have a bread machine, which I do.

Pizza Dough
3/4 cup warm water
1 T olive oil
2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp dry yeast

Just throw in water, oil, flour, salt, sugar, and yeast into the machine (in that order), set the machine to "dough only cycle," and before you know it, out pops some pizza dough. Of course, you can also purchase pizza dough, either from the supermarket or your favorite pizzeria. You'd be surprised to learn that they are often willing to sell the dough for a very reasonable price.
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Silly me, I thought you had to toss the pizza dough and magically stretch it in this laborious way.
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So Not true. Rolling out with a rolling pin works just fine.
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In fact, it's a lot easier to control the shape of the pizza dough that way, which was important for me, since I needed rectangles for my flags.
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You don't need a pizza stone, but it really makes the pizza taste so much better. It's best to heat the pizza stone in the oven for about 30 minutes at 450 to 500 °F before putting the pizzas onto the stone. After that, bake for about 10-12 minutes.

It's really surprisingly simple. And you can totally use your creativity for the toppings - heh, just like the way I did in creating these pizzas. I tried my best to incorporate bits of each country's actual cuisine into the pizzas (in some cases easier than others).

Sooooo . . . without any further adieu, allow me to take you on a short, virtual tour of my travels in the form of pizza flags!

Canada
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I grew up about an hour's drive from Windsor, Canada, so my family went there frequently to shop for Asian groceries and eat good Chinese dim sum. However, my most memorable trip to Canada was a family trip to the Canadian Rockies in 1998. This is seriously one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. The scenery is breathtaking, especially the soaring mountains and the unusually turquoise water.
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Canadian Rockies, Canada

This pizza takes an ordinary pepperoni pizza and jazzes it up by caramelizing the maple-leaf shaped pepperonis with maple syrup in a toaster oven. The red sauce on the side is a simple tomato, butter, and onion sauce. Feel free to use your favorite tomato sauce recipe.
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The United Kingdom
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I visited London for the first time back in 1999 when my college a cappella group went to work with a Chinese church in London for a week. I have fond memories exchanging cultural ideas with those Chinese Christians in London.
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This pizza is a play on "Bangers and Mash," a British dish I learned about during that trip. The pizza sits on base of purple mashed potatoes ("mash"), and has strips of sausage ("bangers") as the red stripes. Thinly sliced mozarella cheese act as the white part of the flag.
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Italy
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Bryan and I spent our honeymoon in Rome, Venice, and Florence. We enjoyed absolutely fantastic food in Italy, and learned how good, fresh ingredients can really make simple dishes shine. This pizza is inspired by the classic Italian salad Insalate Caprese (tomato, basil, and fresh mozarella). In this case, instead of using basil, I have added peppercress, a pungent and fragrant green that adds a lovely bite to the pizza.
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A rooftop champagne toast in Venice, Italy

France
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I studied French in high school and have always loved the beautiful language. For a special milestone birthday, Bryan and I spent a week in Paris, staying right on the grounds of Versaille. It was in Paris where I first discovered my love for the Pierre Hermes Ispahan macaron
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This simple French flag pizza comprises fresh tomato slices, fresh mozzarella cheese, and mashed blue potatoes. The flavors are simple yet delicious when you use high quality, fresh ingredients. For a taste of France, you can incorporate a strong blue cheese into the mashed potatoes for a more unique flavor.
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Versaille, France

USA
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Bryan’s family loves to camp at national parks, and I’ve had the wonderful opportunity of seeing some of these beautiful parks with his family ever since we got married.
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Capitol Reef, Utah

This USA flag contains blue potato slices, mozzarella cheese, and a simple red tomato sauce. The stars are sprinklings of feta cheese. For an alternative way, you can use a base of mozarella cheese and then make the red stripes using bacon.
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Japan
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I studied Japanese in college and spent a summer working as an intern right outside of Tokyo. I fell in love with the food and culture of Japan while I was there. However, it wasn’t until 10 years later that I had the chance to return, this time with Bryan. Bryan and I enjoyed incredible food in Japan (fresh sushi and Kobe beef, just to name a few). This rice-based pizza is inspired by the sushi that we had in Japan. Prebake a "crust" by baking a square of dough without any toppings. After the crust is done, top with sushi rice and sushi-quality raw tuna (maguro). Optionally, put a dab of wasabi right underneath the tuna (out of sight).
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Kyubei in Tokyo (my favorite sushi place!)

Taiwan
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Of course, my parents are from Taiwan, so I went to Taiwan frequently as a child. My favorite foods in Taiwan? Traditional Taiwanese breakfast, shaved ice, and dumplings! I gave this pizza an Asian twist by blending roasted red peppers and “spiking” the mixture with Sriracha sauce to create a spicy and sweet base sauce. The blue portion is mashed blue potatoes, and the “sun” is a sliced mushroom. 
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Ice Monster, Taipei Taiwan

So that's it! I have hardly touched every country I've visited, but at least I've taken you to visit some of them, albeit brief! Thank you so much for joining me on this journey around the world in the form of pizzas!

Bon Appetit!
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Thank you so much for those of you who voted for me the last several rounds. This blog entry is my submission for The Next Food Blog Star’s fifth challenge: Pizza! If you are so inclined, please vote for this entry. Thanks so much for your support!

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you can contact me at: jen[at]tinyurbankitchen[dot]com
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